CBD oil

CBD products like oils, gummies and drinks have seen a boom in popularity in the UK

The Association for the Cannabinoid Industry has written to Food Standards Agency CEO Emily Miles, arguing delays to the CBD novel foods process are in breach of regulations.

The CBD membership organisation said it had “serious concern” over the lack of progress made towards full authorisation of novel food applications submitted to the FSA as early as 2021.

Only half (6,431) of the products on the CBD public list have had their statuses updated to ‘validated’ (meaning their sale is tolerated but they are not ‘fully authorised’ for sale), with the remainder of the 12,115 products currently described as ‘awaiting evidence’.

This, the ACI said, showed the FSA had “wholly failed to comply” with legal requirements to validate novel food applications within a month and then to complete risk assessments within nine months.

The organisation called on Miles to “provide cogent reasons for the failure of the FSA to comply with its regulatory obligations” and to “set out immediate corrective measures with timelines for addressing the backlog of applications”.

Timelines for novel food authorisation set out by EU regulation and retained in UK law state the relevant food safety authority – in this case, the FSA – has nine months from receiving an application to adopt a position, and a further seven months from validation to authorise “placing on the market”.

This timeline can be extended “in exceptional circumstances… where the nature of the matter in question justifies an appropriate extension”, the regulation states.

The ACI noted there had been “no other statements published by the FSA which refer to ‘exceptional circumstances’ or otherwise modify the timelines” set out in UK law.

Businesses wishing to sell CBD products in the UK were required to submit applications to the FSA for authorisation no later than 26 May 2022.

In its own guidance governing applications, the FSA states the overall legislative timeline for authorisation can run to “a total of 17 months”, adding that “this can be extended if the clock is stopped” by a request for further supporting information.

A spokesman for The ACI told The Grocer these types of requests are typically responded to by its members within two weeks.

“It is now some three years since most of ACI’s member companies submitted their novel food applications,” the ACI said. “Members have received little if any communications from the FSA advising on the progress of their applications and no indication as to when the FSA intends to comply with the requirements of the regulations.

“This not only breaches the FSA’s legal obligations, it is procedurally unfair and inconsistent with good administration.”

The FSA’s deputy director of food policy Natasha Smith said in the case of CBD it had “taken a unique approach in tolerating an unauthorised novel food that could have been removed from sale”.

This, she said, was about “balancing the risks against consumer interest” in purchasing and consuming CBD products.

“As with all novel foods, we are carrying out a rigorous and thorough assessment of CBD products which have been submitted for authorisation, and this naturally takes some time to complete,” Smith said. “Applicants can help ensure the process is as efficient as possible by providing quality data which supports the assessment and authorisation process.

“We will continue to engage with applicants at relevant points throughout the authorisation process and will respond to the ACI in due course.”